Jeremy Corbyn, the wind of change?

I have just joined the Labour Party, because Jeremy Corbyn has been elected their leader.

Many people, including political commentators, seem to think that the election vote was for Corbyn’s policy preferences rather than for the person. But I am less interested in the policies than the person. He is a breath of fresh air compared with previous Labour and current Conservative leaders, who exhibited an autocratic style of leadership. If Corbyn were an autocrat then I would be worried! But I remember that early in his campaign he talked of policies being formed by the party, not one person. If that is the case, I may even become active as a Labour Party member!

I am optimistic because I don’t think that the man is an idiot. He knows that he has to create a new unity within the Labour Party. That must be a unity where each opinion is valued and where each member is expected to vote according to their conscience. That is what he has lived throughout his political career, and that is one of the reasons people have voted for him: we are tired of political puppets dancing to the tune set by their leader (or worse, the big donors to their party).

Ever since Thatcher, our nation’s leaders have told us that it is OK to be greedy; that those with high wages ‘are worth it and deserve it’. Nobody has dared suggest that the poor may not want to be poor, and that their wellbeing is more important than a thriving economy that is able to support the wages of the rich. Corbyn is prepared to put the case for the poorest in society. He does not have to pick a fight with the wealthy if they are ready to recognise that they have a responsibility as fellow human beings to do their fair share in trying to balance the nation’s books. But if they don’t listen, and if greed prevails, then protest may become necessary.

I see Corbyn’s landslide election as a catalyst for a new type of politician, with humility and integrity, who is willing to serve and represent their community. Who can say quite what will happen, but disruption of a stale and failing political system has to be a good thing. If nothing else, he has captured the imagination of the younger generation. Let’s hope that this brings the positive change that we all want.

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“Christianity – Why Bother?” … out now

Belief in God is claimed to be on the decline, and many cannot see a reason to question whether God might exist. What would be the point? Why make the effort? That is why “Christianity, Why Bother?” deserves a read. It answers the question that its title asks.

The book discusses some of the misconceptions of Christianity, and then moves on to examine the basis for belief and explains some of the practical and day-to-day benefits of being a Christian. The author shares some of his experiences since he became a Christian at the age of forty. The aim is simply to address the question, “why bother?”

Christianity why bother cover

Click here to buy on Amazon.

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Greece is on the verge of a great future – don’t throw it away!

What is it that defines a successful country? The wellbeing of the citizens, or the nation’s riches? The two are not the same.

Wellbeing: feeling loved and valued, health, happiness, contributing to society –these are the things that matter, that make us human. These do not come with national wealth but with equality and relationships – how people value and treat each other.

In the war, everyone was ‘in it together’ and although times were hard, apart from the obvious war wounds, people were healthy, valued and fulfilled. Society became much more equal. If Greece chooses to adopt a true attitude of unity (not like Cameron’s phony ‘Big Society’) where everyone looks out for each other, where those with more help out those with less – because they matter as fellow human beings – then Greece will thrive!

The worry is that Greece is so keen to stay in the “Euro” club that they will give up their wellbeing to do so. They are already feeling un-valued, un-loved and betrayed. They are dealing with institutions, but institutions don’t have a soul and don’t care about people, so why is Greece surprised. But they don’t have to shackle themselves to the rich man’s yoke to live well.

So long as there is food on the table and friends to eat it with, so long as their whole society unites in a common cause, they will thrive. But if they choose to be victims of the wealthy, if their society chooses to take what they can as individuals then they will indeed suffer. The richer Greeks will be materially fine but the poor will hurt, health for all will worsen, there will be riots and unrest, and productivity will reduce too – the signs are already there.

Greece is at a crossroads, but it’s not the crossroads reported in the press. It is a crossroads of its citizen’s attitude to each other. They can lead the world in showing how to be successful without being serfs to the economic barons. I hope that they choose wisely.


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Work and Pay

I think the world has become confused about work.

Instead of thinking that work is something to be endured to bring in the money we need to live, or a means of making us rich we should think of our work as our contribution to fulfilling the needs of society. We need to start thinking of it as ‘what can I give’ instead of ‘what do I get’.

And in a similar manner, society needs to think more clearly about the needs of the individual. All of us need to eat, sleep and live somewhere that we can call home. And the reciprocal side of the exchange is that when someone contributes to society, then society has a duty of love to meet the needs of that person.

Jesus told a parable of a man who hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some just before closing time. But he paid them all the same. He paid them what they needed to live. But of course, those who worked all day felt that this was not just and grumbled. Yet the vineyard owner pointed out that they were happy to work for their agreed wages, and they had received them. All the workers were willing to work. They were willing to make their contribution to society, even if there was no immediate work required. And they all had the same needs. The vineyard owner met their needs. Why can’t we follow this example?

Similarly, how do we decide how much someone should be paid? Is it according to the contribution that the job makes to society? How valuable is it to society when a person sits at a desk and manages our money? How valuable is it to society when a person removes the rubbish that we create during the week? How valuable is it to society when a person serves us a meal in a café or restaurant? I have to say that the most valued workman I’ve encountered is the one who came to clear our blocked drains when the raw sewerage was overflowing! Yet he is paid less than I am, when I spend much of my time sitting at a computer terminal.

It is not my aim to claim that job A is X times as valuable as job B, but to add into our thinking and actions that we need to be willing to pay each person sufficient to meet their needs.

Unfortunately the recent trend is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. I don’t have a problem with unequal pay, and with pay that reflects the value to society of the work. But I do take issue with a system that ignores the ‘need’ part of the equation.

Can you and I do anything? Yes we can. Even if it is only being willing to pay a fair price instead of the lowest price for goods and services.

But also, the reward for our work is more than just money. We all value the respect of our fellow human beings. One thing that we can all do is to treat everyone, in whatever job, with respect and with appreciation.

And similarly, when we are working, we can consider our work as more than just a job but as a contribution to society. The bricklayer can choose to be building a home instead of laying some bricks.

And we also need to respect those who are seeking work but unable to find it. Not only do they receive no wages, our benefit system disrespects them and prevents them making their contribution to the good of us all. Can’t we treat them like those in Jesus’ parable who were looking for work , and who at the end of the day were then paid what they needed to live.

Let’s think on these things as we go about or daily life of working, waiting, shopping and ‘consuming’.  Let’s change our attitudes.

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Financial advice from Money Box Live, or Pope Francis?

I was listening to the radio program Money Box Live last week. They were talking about pensions. It seems that if you delay taking your pension for a year then the amount of your pension increases by about 10% per year when you do take it. I guess this is a government scheme to reduce spending on pensions today at the cost of increasing it in future years, perhaps when there may be another government in power – but that’s not the point of this article. The thing that caught my attention was that they got a mathematician to describe the best time to take your pension.

The longer you delay, the higher the pension when you take it, but the less time you take it for. So if you know when you are going to die (which you can look up in statistical tables) the mathematician was working out a time at which the total amount of money you receive reaches a maximum.

All very logical and calculable, so why am I writing about it? Because it is a symptom of the cancerous thinking that underlies so many decisions today:
Our goal is to maximise the money we get, even if we only get it on the day before we die.

We forget that the more we have, even when we don’t need it, the less there is for others.

We don’t consider that the schemes we invest our money in minimise costs, such as the wages of the lowly paid, or maximise income, such lending our money at high rates of interest.

We ignore the fact that making decisions on the basis of maximising our income reinforces the extremely unfair financial systems that we have today, where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

It is not easy to turn down opportunities to make more, or spend less. It is natural to want to buy the cheapest milk, or trainers, or energy – but each decision has its consequence.
When we invest to minimise our tax bill, we are placing the burden of paying for our public services on others. We are encouraging our government to introduce ‘austerity’ measures – “sanctioning” benefit claimants if they miss an appointment (in effect, fining them 100% of their income). We place the burden of balancing the government’s books on the poor.

My mother died last year. She didn’t spend the pension she received, and her investments grew, and we were surprised at the amount of money that she left. I have to decide what to do with the money I inherited. Money Box Live would tell me to invest to maximise my income. But I agree with Pope Francis, I reject that basis for my decisions. How about you?

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There are no border controls on the Kingdom of God

Jesus taught that “the Kingdom of God is at hand”. But how do we get there? Do we need a passport, or apply for a visa? Do we have to pass an entrance test to become a citizen?
Anselm described God as supreme goodness, and John’s gospel tells us that God is love; “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. And if God is love, love is God.
But God is more than that, he has ‘person-ness’ that I describe in “Four steps of reason leading to a personal God” . So we can think of love as part of his realm, his kingdom. Therefore to live in love is to live in the Kingdom of God. Every act of goodness or love is by definition carried out in the Kingdom of God. Every time a person choses to act kindly to a neighbour, they are in the Kingdom of God. Every time they choose not to respond in a loving, good way they are choosing to live outside the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter whether they call themselves Christian, Moslem, Hindu or atheist – acting is love is acting in the Kingdom of God.
Because it is our choice whether we act, or live, in the Kingdom of God there are no border controls. God does not make any demands, or set any tests for those who want to live there. We simply decide. I choose to love, therefore by definition I choose to live in the Kingdom of God.
But by definition, if I choose to be selfish then I am not in the Kingdom of God, because selfishness is not love, and therefore is not part of the Kingdom of God. If I live selfishly, I am in the Kingdom of Me.
Clearly we move in and out of the Kingdom of God every hour of every day. Perhaps we all need to be a little more conscious of which Kingdom we want to live in.

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“You can’t support them all can you?”

Let me start by start by confessing that I am writing this to myself as much as to anyone else, and particularly to those of us who call ourselves Christians. It covers the challenging topic of giving money. Often we say, or hear others say something like, “I won’t give to that charity. You can’t support them all, can you?”  It sounds reasonable, but is it correct? Christians believe that Jesus Christ gave everything for us. He gave his life that we might have a rich and satisfying life. We believe that there is guidance in the Bible on how to live such a life. Here are some passages:

“Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” “When you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The message appears to be that yes, we can support them all. I was discussing this with my wife after looking at the distribution of income on an earlier post. When would it be OK to say no, we are giving enough? I suggested that perhaps it was OK when our income net of giving was that of the lowest on the curve – the bottom 10%. If we expect people on the bottom 10% to live full and satisfying lives on their income, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same? Elsewhere in the bible is states that:  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  So how does that fit with “sell all you have and give the money to the poor”? Perhaps it means that if we are unable to give cheerfully to anyone who asks then we need to work on our heart. Maybe we need to teach ourselves to love more. As well as listening to the advice on how to maximise our income, invest in schemes to give high interest and avoid paying tax, we need to be hearing that we can manage on less. We can still maximise our income, but to give more away instead of saving it for ourselves.  See also my post “The Wealthy are Redeemable” Yes, I am sure I am being hypocritical in writing this. But that does not make what I have written wrong. Let’s all ponder this in our hearts and see what we decide to do.


If you want some ideas, try these links:

feel free to add your own in the comments.  I’ll add them here when I get time.

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